Experiencing injuries when workers get tired? See what ASSP found about wearable technology

by Brianna Crandall — January 28, 2019 — The ASSP Foundation, charitable arm of the 100+-year-old global nonprofit American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) recently released a fatigue research report that shows the value of wearable technology in the workplace, encouraging employers and managers to make a New Year’s resolution to monitor the fatigue levels of its workers to reduce injuries and increase productivity. The three-year study was led by Dr. Lora Cavuoto at the University at Buffalo and Dr. Fadel Megahed at the Farmer School of Business at Miami University of Ohio. The project also involved researchers from Auburn University and the University of Dayton.

The study, which ended in December 2018, demonstrated how to capture a worker’s safety performance and translate the data into personal fatigue levels. ASSP says it’s the first step in creating a comprehensive framework that can identify research-supported interventions that protect workers from injuries caused by being tired on the job.

Dr. Cavuoto stated:

Fatigue is a hidden danger in the workplace, but now we’ve tackled the measurement and modeling of fatigue through wearable sensors, incorporating big data analytics and safety engineering. Information is power, so knowing when, where and how fatigue impacts worker safety is critical. You can’t identify solutions until you pinpoint the problems.

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), fatigue costs US employers more than $130 billion a year in health-related lost productivity. In addition, more than 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder. A typical US company with 1,000 employees can expect to lose more than $1 million each year to fatigue, which can often increase the workloads of other human operators. This phenomenon has been reported in advanced manufacturing, warehousing, truck driving, construction and other occupations.

The research funded by the ASSP Foundation involved 25 participants wearing non-obtrusive wrist, hip and ankle sensors while completing three tasks commonly performed by manufacturing workers — assembly, stocking, and remaining in a static or flexed position. Each person worked in three-hour increments. The study demonstrated that meaningful safety data can be collected by an employer in a cost-effective manner without interfering with a worker’s daily routine.

Dr. Cavuoto continued:

By setting parameters, we identified behavioral changes in how people conduct work over time. For example, we saw how workers performed the same task in the first hour as compared to the third hour when fatigue became a factor. Wearable technology can uncover precursors to larger problems and help establish safety interventions that may call for scheduled breaks, posture adjustments or vitamin supplements that help the body.

The fatigue research report, Advancing Safety Surveillance Using Individualized Sensor Technology (ASSIST): Final Progress Report, is available on the ASSP Foundation’s website. It is one of many research initiatives expected over the next several years in support of ASSP’s goal to elevate occupational safety and health worldwide. A repository of the research papers and code resulting from the project is available at the team’s ResearchGate project folder.